What government did Jean-Jacques Rousseau prefer?  

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The short answer to this question is that Rousseau believed in government based upon the will of the people and created through their consent. Rousseau is somewhat elusive and contradictory in spelling out what such a government should look like, but in general he thought a direct democracy, operating at the local (city, or canton) level was the best form of government. The crucial thing for Rousseau was that government ought to express what he called the "general will" of the people. This concept, which is different from the notions of "majority rule" or "popular sovereignty" that are associated with representative government, was consistent with his assertion that the sovereign could never really represent the people, but only its own will. But at the same time, Rousseau said that government needed educated, competent men to carry out its basic functions. While he thought these men should be elected, he also realized they would probably gain power over the people. So he, like many thinkers of his time, saw republics as very difficult to maintain. When reading Rousseau, in fact, it is probably more important to think about how he thought individuals should behave in an ideal government than what the structure of that government should look like. Rousseau, like many of his contemporaries, emphasized virtue as essential to the maintenance of a republic. People should act in the interest of the general will rather than out of naked self-interest, and they should be educated accordingly.